Soon it Will be OK to Pop, Rock & Roll

Author: C.L. Harmon
Category: Music
Date Published: April 27, 2020

It’s a struc­ture in progress with its steel fram­ing and con­crete foun­da­tions soon to appear, seem­ing­ly becom­ing just anoth­er build­ing ris­ing into the city. By appear­ances, it will prob­a­bly draw no more than glances from those on the express­way above speed­ing by on their way to dif­fer­ent des­ti­na­tions. But to many, it will be so much more. And to one man, in par­tic­u­lar, it will become the reflec­tion of con­tri­bu­tions from some of the great­est influ­ences in music, film, the­atre, and writ­ing. It’s a vision to be sure. But more than this, it’s a jour­ney where the ghosts of the past and souls of the present share their lega­cies with any­one inter­est­ed in pop cul­ture. It’s OKPOP and it’s on its way.

Pho­to by Phil Clarkin Pho­tog­ra­phy — Pro­vid­ed by OKPoP

That one man is Jeff Moore, Direc­tor of the OKPOP project for the Okla­homa His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety (OHS). His vision is cur­rent­ly under con­struc­tion across the way from the his­toric Cain’s Ball­room in Tul­sa. And though it will be called a muse­um, one must put away images of school field trips to view anti­quat­ed col­lec­tions of arti­facts from the dead and his­to­ry lessons with no soul. OKPOP will be an expe­ri­ence to experience…an entice­ment of the soul where tunes from our youth for­ev­er dance to the rhythm of our very being.

This endeav­or is the first struc­tur­al project for OHS in Tul­sa, Moore said. It all began in 2005 with the open­ing of the Okla­homa His­to­ry Cen­ter in Okla­homa City in which Moore was a mem­ber of the team that brought it to life. Fol­low­ing the suc­cess of that project which gar­nered nation­al atten­tion and sig­nif­i­cant­ly increased the pro­file of the OHS, the goal became to uti­lize that momen­tum and move on to the next big project. Unbe­knownst at the time, the next endeav­or would be the begin­nings of a project that will even­tu­al­ly encom­pass the whole of cre­ative his­to­ry in Oklahoma.

Pho­to by Phil Clarkin Pho­tog­ra­phy — Pro­vid­ed by OKPoP

It would be dur­ing research into state gov­er­nors, their per­son­al lives, and his­to­ry which was that fol­low up project that the idea for OKPOP was born. It was dis­cov­ered that for­mer Gov­er­nor David Boren’s aunt was Mae Bowen Axton aka the ‘Queen Moth­er of Nashville’. Elvis Pres­ley fans may know her as the co-writer for his first num­ber one hit “Heart­break Hotel”. She also worked with oth­ers such as Eddy Arnold, Reba McIn­tire, Willie Nel­son, and Tanya Tuck­er to name a few. She is also the moth­er of singer/songwriter and actor Hoyt Axton.

Hav­ing been at the OHS for ten years at that time, Moore was look­ing for “some­thing out­side the box” to con­tin­ue the momen­tum the OHS was enjoy­ing. He knew he had found it in when the idea of rock n roll played as a thump­ing tune in his head. With infor­ma­tion like Mae Axton’s accom­plish­ments out there, he knew there had to be more that had to be brought to light and believed an exhib­it on Okla­homa rock n roll was the tick­et. The pow­ers that be agreed. From that moment in 2006, began the 14-year jour­ney that will soon be the lat­est addi­tion to the Tul­sa sky­line. Ini­tial­ly, it was to be an explo­ration into the less­er-known sto­ry­lines of the state’s con­tri­bu­tions to rock n roll. It would not take long to learn that the con­nec­tions from those sto­ry­lines would segue into so much more. By 2007, enthu­si­asm had grown expo­nen­tial­ly for the idea of a rock n roll exhibit.

Con­struc­tion — Pho­to Pro­vid­ed by OKPoP

How­ev­er, the OHS had no exhibits or col­lec­tions at that time or any­where to house them if they had. But first things first. The most impor­tant aspect for the OHS was to begin acquir­ing oral his­to­ries from those who con­tributed to Okla­homa music his­to­ry. The ini­tia­tive began with Wan­da Jack­son aka “The Queen of Rock­a­bil­ly” inter­view who had a string of hits in the mid-50s and 60s and was one of the first Okla­homans to gain nation­al atten­tion in the music indus­try. Hav­ing such a high-pro­file musician’s sto­ry under their belt made get­ting oth­er artists involved much eas­i­er, Moore said. The list began to grow.

“This was very much an organ­ic process. We were mak­ing head­way and bring­ing in col­lec­tions. By 2009 we opened up our first exhib­it and knew we were on to some­thing. We opened ‘Anoth­er Hot Okla­homa Night: A Rock n Roll Exhib­it’ at the Okla­homa His­to­ry Cen­ter. It cov­ered the his­to­ry of Rock n Roll in Okla­homa and launched the effort that has become OKPOP. We were able to work with every­one from Wan­da Jack­son to Wayne Coyne and Leon Rus­sell to The Kings of Leon.” he said.

Con­struc­tion — Pho­to Pro­vid­ed by OKPoP

The actu­al build­ing blocks for build­ing new muse­ums had begun in 1995 with the open­ing of the Route 66 Muse­um in Clin­ton. This would be Moore’s first project for OHS and he sees it as one with pop cul­ture roots from var­i­ous per­spec­tives. And, in many ways, an exten­sion of the pop cul­ture project he is now help­ing create.

“We knew that because of the suc­cess of that muse­um, which is so root­ed in pop cul­ture, that this broad­ened that con­cept to include oth­er aspects includ­ing Oklahoma’s influ­ence on film, music, com­ic books, authors and even com­e­dy. We knew that we real­ly had a unique sto­ry to tell. In a way, we are telling the sto­ry of Okla­homa his­to­ry through a dif­fer­ent lens. And we are telling it through cre­ativ­i­ty as opposed to facts and dates,” Moore said. Through dis­cov­er­ing the many facets which Okla­homans have con­tributed to the cul­ture of the world, those involved dubbed the entire con­cept as the “Cross­roads of Cre­ativ­i­ty” with Route 66 the high­way in which it was dis­sem­i­nat­ed to the rest of the world.

It would take sev­er­al years for the actu­al build­ing blocks to come togeth­er. But con­crete foun­da­tions were not need­ed to begin build­ing what will one day sure­ly become a lega­cy of its own. Those involved in the cre­ation of this project have already con­duct­ed almost 500 inter­views since the incep­tion of a pop cul­ture muse­um. Many of these are two and three hours long, Moore said. The val­ue of such oral his­to­ries is immea­sur­able and thanks to endeav­ors such as OKPOP, times of the past will con­tin­ue to live on for future gen­er­a­tions long after those his­to­ry mak­ers have passed on.

Pho­to by Phil Clarkin Pho­tog­ra­phy — Pro­vid­ed by OKPoP

Their voic­es may no longer vibrate along radio waves or the film char­ac­ters may no longer glide across movie the­ater screens, but their lega­cies and con­tri­bu­tions will con­tin­ue to enter­tain with­in the con­fines of history.

Moore points out the impor­tance of why we should care about those who made marks in pop cul­ture even before many of us were born. Fig­ures like Bob Wills for exam­ple and his con­nec­tion to Cain’s Ball­room. This old build­ing is one of the most sig­nif­i­cant pop cul­ture loca­tions in the world. Most prob­a­bly don’t know the rea­son the inter­state runs eight feet from the north­east cor­ner of Cain’s is because of the sig­nif­i­cance of that build­ing due to Bob Wills and his suc­cess; a per­fect exam­ple of what Okla­homans have con­tributed to pop cul­ture. Route 66 is anoth­er exam­ple with its tales of those who trav­eled it west to fame in Cal­i­for­nia. And there will be so much more of Oklahoma’s con­tri­bu­tions to pop cul­ture. Such as inter­est­ing tid­bits like Bob Wills’ design of the mod­el for tour­ing bands, which he cre­at­ed in the 1930s and is still is used today and that his music shows from Cain’s were broad­cast across the US and even in the Pacif­ic dur­ing WWII.

Then we have Will Rogers whose nation­al­ly syn­di­cat­ed columns and week­ly radio shows were enjoyed by over 200 mil­lion peo­ple dur­ing the Depres­sion. These Okla­homans had major impacts on how enter­tain­ment would progress in the future…and they start­ed right here in Oklahoma.

Pho­to by Phil Clarkin Pho­tog­ra­phy — Pro­vid­ed by OKPoP

As for the build­ing, it will be locat­ed at 422 N. Main Street across the street from Cain’s Ball­room and will mea­sure 60,000 square feet, con­sist of a 300-seat the­atre-style venue, small­er lis­ten­ing rooms, retail space and 22,000 feet of exhib­it and expe­ri­ence space.

Moore points out that the objec­tive of OKPOP is to not glo­ri­fy one per­son or their accom­plish­ments but to tell their sto­ries and the impact their careers had on pop cul­ture as well the influ­ence the state had on them. He added that our cul­tur­al diver­si­ty is one of the things that makes us unique and adds to the whole of pop cul­ture. This too will be reflect­ed in the exhibits and sto­ries to be housed in the museum.

“We are not a hall of fame where we are check­ing off box­es to make sure peo­ple get into OKPOP. We are look­ing at this from the per­spec­tive of what influ­ence the state has had on pop­u­lar cul­ture, the impact this state has made,” Moore said. The idea is not just that Okla­homans made an impact, but that Okla­homa made an impact on those who con­tributed to pop culture.

Pho­to by Phil Clarkin Pho­tog­ra­phy — Pro­vid­ed by OKPoP

“This is about Oklahoma’s his­to­ry, its cre­ative DNA. This cap­i­tal­izes on our unique his­to­ry that no oth­er state has. And in the end, I hope it instills pride in what it means to be an Okla­homan,” he said.

One of the slo­gans that were tossed around among the design team was “Grit & Glitz” sug­gest­ed by Tul­sa archi­tect Chris Lil­ly. The name just seemed to fit with the state mot­to of ‘Labor Con­quers All’ which is indica­tive of the strong work eth­ic in Okla­homa cou­pled with the glitz of show busi­ness. This cer­tain­ly does seem a fit­ting descrip­tion for such an endeav­or as OKPOP. But there are many more to be sure. How does one encom­pass the whole of what it takes to com­bine the tal­ent, faith, courage, and per­se­ver­ance it takes to make a mark on soci­ety and cul­ture and then bot­tle it up for show? OHS seems to be answer­ing that question…and cor­rect­ly it seems with this endeav­or. What it’s col­lect­ing, record­ing, and soon hous­ing is who we are, our iden­ti­ty to the rest of the world. We are the embod­i­ment of those who have helped shape pop cul­ture in our world. From Bob Wills to the next big Okla­homa artist. We are and have been a cre­ative force wor­thy of the mot­to Labor Con­quers All, but with the addi­tion, and pop cul­ture our legacy.

OKPOP Exte­ri­or — Pho­to Pro­vid­ed by OKPoP

There is cur­rent­ly a huge social media push to make many of these sto­ries and pho­tos avail­able to the pub­lic before the doors are open or even installed at this point. To enjoy this aspect of state his­to­ry vis­it

OKPOP is sched­uled to be com­plete in 2022. Nab­holz Con­struc­tion began in Feb­ru­ary 2020.


C.L. Harmon

C.L. Harmon

C.L. is an award-winning journalist who spent many years in the newspaper and freelance fields. In addition to holding reporting and editing positions throughout his career, he also owned and operated a newspaper for several years. He was born, raised, and continues to reside in Oklahoma.


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